Last week a jellied disc
in one of my husband’s lower vertebrae
cinched, slipped—on the x-ray
the bones’ thorned edges gritted against each other,
his whole spine yearning left,
a lily stem arched toward the promise
of light. Now the days shrink
into themselves, the trees bare-limbed
but for squirrels’ nests and the green
bloom of mistletoe, the opalescent berries
suspended like droplets of milk.
All my comforts are questions:
is it better, does this help, and to wonder
at the body as host, his to pain,
mine to our firstborn. Unseen, unfelt
arms and legs push into socket,
joints form, the elbow a door
swinging open. Before you, before your
cloistral assembly of parts, I knew
words waiting to become you:
Face. Hair. Cuticle. Was it this way
for Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit?—
her body not hers, reworded with the promise
of flesh? How can this be? I echo her,
though I have known a man.
Here? I ask him, and soothe cream
into his skin, the two divots in the small
of his back—gates that keep the invisible hurt.
May it be as you have said—
and I picture her trembling hands,
the hour dusk, everything vague and blued,
hour all the shadows become shadow.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.